Tuesday, 4 May 2010

On Context..

So I met my cousin after ages last week. I noted with happiness that he's grown up now since the last time i saw him, turning 13 this year. I also noted with concern that unless my uncle and aunt were planning on having another kid, I'm gonna soon earn the unenviable position of being the shortest amongst the cousins on my mom's side of the family. But of course, thats not the reason I'm writing this, the reason is that for the first time in my life, perhaps, i felt a generation gap with someone younger than me. yes, you may proudly sniffle and wipe away a tear of joy since i might just be showing signs of growing up there.

Since we met at a funeral which was a rather traumatic experience for the both of us, we stuck together spending time avoiding the adults and generally spending quality time together. for purposes of this blog post, the cut-off age for adulthood was set at one year above my age. Now, at some point in my conversations with young cousins and nephews and nieces, they ask me about my job, and i tell them. Usually this is followed by a facial expression generally involving widened eyes to indicate that they are suitably impressed. this cousin, though, did not bat an eyelid. what he did, instead, was to launch into a detailed conversation on cockpits and aircraft in general. He had seen all the episodes of 'Air Crash Investigation' and knew by heart the subtleties of various crashes. It was my turn to adopt the expression i mentioned before, as our conversation drifted on to a discussion on the sioux city air crash.

Turns out, the kid is a storehouse of knowledge. He seems to know far more than any kid i knew when i was his age. And then when i thought about it, the other kids i know now who are as old as him all seem a lot smarter on average. Of course, the prima facie suspect would be the internet, which is pretty much the single largest difference between what his generation and mine had. Sure, once i grew up and saw fancy toys like r/c helicopters and stuff in the store, i kinda wished that they were around in my childhood. but that seems to be a constant difference, for i've heard my mom remark about a lack of choice in toys when she was a kid. But the internet is a sort of game changer in that sense i suppose, since libraries were around forever, and tv has benefited (or is that harmed?) at least a coupla generations before his, including mine.

But there was one little problem. He lacked context. I noticed this when we were taking a walk down some woods on our way to an old pond. He was interested in nature like a lot of kids his age, but knew nothing about the insects or plants around him. He did not know various kinds of ants, was irrationally afraid of all species of millipedes even though he was fascinated by them and knew they were harmless for the most part, and he could not grasp how a 'vellaka' (which is the malayalam name for small coconuts that usually fall prematurely from the tree) was essentially a miniature coconut. Yet he knew vast amounts of facts about stag beetles and rattle snakes on continents far far away, and i'd never even heard about the former until he mentioned it. i did google it later, though, and it seems like a fascinating creature. In any case, my point is this. All the information in the world, without the proper context and background which gives it perspective, is essentially useless i guess, except for winning quiz competitions maybe. Having a fact-sheet about jungles in your head without ever having seen even a thicket, does not necessarily make you a useful guy to have on an amazon expedition. You need empirical knowledge to counterbalance theoretical knowledge i guess.

So, I counted myself lucky that the internet came at a time when i could appreciate it, and not before. And therefore i spent the time before the internet playing in the mud, building toy trains and ships, and going on bicycle rides far far longer than mom wouldve permitted if she'd known. I counted myself lucky that i know a cobra from a krait from a rat snake from a water snake which made all the difference when searching for lost cricket balls in marshes near paddy fields.

And in the little time i had left with my cousin before we headed back to our respective cities, i taught him how to spot and catch antlions, how vellakas of a certain size made good projectiles that would carry far enough and sting but rarely hurt someone, how to use the stem of a papaya leaf as a snorkel, how to jump off walls without getting hurt, and most importantly, how to skip stones on the surface of a pond. For a kid trapped in a ninth story apartment in the thick of bombay, i hope it made some kind of difference.


katturumbu said...


vaidehi said...

lovely post..
can totally relate to it

fulcrum said...

thanks :)